6 July 2023  Media Releases

Reset of youth justice system cannot be delayed – Chief Children’s Commissioner

Video evidence of violence inside our Youth Justice residences reaffirms the need for a system reset, says Chief Children’s Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers.

“As the police investigation into residences progresses, we can’t assume we have seen the worst yet. Not only is our current care system not working, it is actively harming the young people it is supposed to be helping,” says Judge Eivers.

“It’s clear that these are not therapeutic environments focused on rehabilitation. We want our mokopuna in youth justice to grow to be proud and strong within their communities, but that can’t happen in prison-like institutions.

“Children’s Commissioners have repeatedly called for Youth Justice residences to be phased out. I have continued, and will not stop advocating for that.

“Tangible change cannot be put on the backburner, but at the same time we need to get this right, and that requires calm, considered decision making that prioritises the immediate safety of these mokopuna.

“How long do mokopuna have to wait before we can get them out of those prison-like facilities?

“Time and time again, the Children’s Commissioner – now the new Commission – has reported the same issues at residences with Oranga Tamariki and yet little has changed. Our reports include:

  • The use of secure care (solitary confinement) to manage the behaviour of young people
  • The number of assaults between mokopuna, including the use of weapons
  • The lack of therapeutic and occupational programmes, or a wrap-around plan designed for a young person
  • Unaddressed mental health issues
  • Contraband entering the residence, including vapes and cell phones
  • Kaimahi (staff) telling us they felt untrained, over stretched, and left on their own to cope with no leadership from outside the residence
  • Kaimahi not knowing how to spot and de-escalate situations
  • The lack of transparency across residence operations. This includes the lack of detail in some Serious Event Notification (SEN) reports, and the lack of access given to independent advocates when they visit the residence.

“We are not a sole voice. The Ministerial Advisory Board has reported similar concerns, and made recommendations for change. And again we are yet to see concrete change for the young people.

“I can, however, be clear about what ‘good’ looks like, and encourage us all to have a positive discussion of our path as a country:

  • A by Māori for Māori approach is essential. A significant proportion of the young people in residences whakapapa Māori. A system that responds to their cultural needs not only will help them reconnect with their identity and build their mana, it will benefit all young people struggling to cope with understanding how they fit into society and help them heal.
  • Care and protection and detention environments must be smaller, home-like, and be connected with each child’s community. Prison-like environments create prison-like behaviour. Where needed, residences can still be made secure without metres of wire and concrete. Connection with the local community and their whānau encourages young people to feel included, part of a caring and protective environment that will love and guide them.
  • It must be therapeutic and focused on rehabilitation, which includes their whānau. Trauma and learnt behaviour does not heal itself. We cannot expect young people to overcome the hurdles they face without help. They need a vision of the future that is positive, and that they believe is achievable.
  • It must be bigger than Oranga Tamariki. There are young people in residences with multiple and complex needs that require multi-agency support. Other agencies, such as Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, need to be part of a wrap around support plan, particularly for the young people with mental health diagnoses, traumatic brain injury, and neurodiversities such as FASD, ADHD and spectrum disorders.
  • Kaimahi must be fully trained, specifically around trauma informed practice, because most mokopuna in detention experience significant trauma in their lives. Without an understanding of how to manage and de-escalate behaviours before it hits a crisis point, no one is safe.”


Editor’s note:

The Ministerial Advisory Board review into residences can be seen here: Residences Review | Oranga Tamariki — Ministry for Children

Recent OCC monitoring reports into all residences can be found here: Reports | Mana Mokopuna

Older OCC monitoring reports into YJ residences can be found here: https://www.manamokopuna.org.nz/publications/oia/opcat-youth-justice-residences/

For media enquiries, please contact:

Melissa Wastney (she/her)
Kaitohutohu - Communications and Media Advisor
Mana Mokopuna | Children and Young People's Commission
027 8762731